Some recent returnees to the Jewish people have ancient roots. The Ibo (or Igbo) are a tribe in Nigeria numbering in the millions. Remy Illona writes in his 2005 book about the history of the Ibo:
The Ibo Benei-Yisrael of Nigeria [...] are an ethnic group [that] descended from the southern and westward migrations of both ancient Hebrew and later Israeli peoples from the Middle East into Africa. [...] The oral traditions of the Ibo maintain that their presence has been in what is termed “Iboland” for over 1,500 years. [They] state that their ancestors were migrants from ancient Israel, possibly beginning with the Semitic migrations from Northern Arabia into Eastern Africa around 500 BCE.
Ibo oral tradition references the names of specific Lost Tribes from which these clans are believed to have originated. However, many Ibo have no awareness of their Jewish heritage. Others are aware and proud of their Jewish ancestry and are actively reclaiming Judaism. Certain Nigerian Jewish communities have been making increasing connections with world Jewry. There are relatively recent efforts to reestablish the Jewish community in Nigeria, including building synagogues.
Rabbi Capers Funnye’s congregation in Chicago are sponsoring the building of a sister synagogue in Delta State, Nigeria. Because no formal census has been taken in the region, it is unknown how many native Jews reside in Nigeria. There may be twenty-six synagogues of various sizes and estimates of possibly as many as 30,000 Ibos practicing some form of Judaism. Further research is necessary.
A survey of the Nigerian Jewish Communities: Phase I
A survey was conducted to learn more about the demographic and religious profile of the Nigerian Jewish community, and also to assess the community needs. A self-administered questionnaire survey was designed by the Institute of Jewish & Community Research and collected in Nigeria in 2005 by Dr. Dele Jane Osawe (may her memory be a blessing) on behalf of the Pan-African Jewish Alliance (PAJA). This report examines the qualitative data from a question designed to elicit open-ended comments and discussion. The question was completed by 327 representatives of the Nigerian Jewish community.
- Nigerian Jews have difficulty as a small minority living among the Christian majority.
- Many respondents are spiritual seekers, and include former Christians.
- Most Individuals are generally enthusiastic about Judaism.
- Some respondents confused Christian dogma with Judaism and in some cases are practicing duel religions.
- Most Nigerian Jews are concerned that they are not recognized by world Jewry.
- Some respondents are concerned about how to combat racism.
A majority of the respondents requested religious materials including books and magazines to help them grow and improve their knowledge of Judaism.
Some people asked for help to build community infrastructure, such as schools, synagogues and libraries.
Some respondents requested education, including leadership and rabbinic training.
The data collected from the survey showed that the people were enthusiastic about their religion. However, it also illustrated that the communities lacked the educational materials and leadership they desire to grow both spiritually and communally. They are generally looking for information and access, and are seeking assistance and recognition from the world Jewish community.